The Date

They walked into the restaurant as the lazy afternoon trudged by. All the tables were empty, with no signs of life except for a silent TV screen tuned to a sports channel. The tables were expectantly laid out, waiting for a nameless family to walk in later in the day.. or perhaps a lonely soul searching for a solitary meal. They chose a table in the corner, shielded from view by an ornate vase filled with plastic flowers. Slats of sunlight streamed into the restaurant, illuminating dust particles tracing random paths through the air, the curtains iridescent a glowing red. In a silent and shaded room, they spoke in smiling whispers.

They placed their order quickly, with barely a glance at the menu. The old waiter smiled at their haste, watching them quickly go through the motions that made their presence at the restaurant acceptable.  The food was laid out… and ignored…Cell phones silenced ..their screens flashing with exasperated urgency. They were glad that the lunch hour rush had eluded this place, and glad that they could sneak away in the middle of an unforgiving day. Their families did not know that they were here. Not the parents, or the friends, or the pseudo family at their work place. It happened at the spur of the moment. He called her at work in the morning, and asked her out for a lunch. She had meetings at work, and had to buy some grocery for dinner. She thought, “Come on, its just lunch”. She said yes. They arrived at the restaurant separately, and met like the days in the past. She was looking lovely, and he was reminded of long evening walks when they were students in college. When all a date meant was a cup of tea or a glass of sugarcane juice. For her, it was nice to get away from a life lived everyday, with no in-laws or friends or the attached hassles of being married.

The hour went by quickly. He paid the bill and told her that it had been a great lunch. And perhaps, they should do it again. She smiled, a bit amused at his enthusiasm. And said, yes, we should do it again. And as they walked out of the restaurant, he held her hand. A bit conscious of the knowing glances and smiles of the restaurant staff, and wondering why it took them four years of being married to go on a lunch date again.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

She and I started off as roomies in college. Cliched as it sounds, we couldn’t be more different. She is as outgoing as I am reserved. She calls a spade a spade where I might just keep mum. While music is emotion for me, she is indifferent to it. While I would any day prefer to read than talk, she is exactly the opposite.
But then friendship isn’t really an outcome of analysis, is it? You either click with someone or you don’t. You meet so many people, talk to so many people…while most drift away, a few remain and slowly etch themselves as an integral part of your lives….

So it was with us. I am perfectly comfortable telling her anything…without fear of judgment.Making plans always, she is my Idea buddy.

She is my willing accomplice in all things stupid, and impulsive & fun! If it’s a t shirt I want to paint.. or get drenched in the rain…I know she will join me. I remember our numerous walks to eat Mango Dollies..and drink chai at the tapri…and make ambitious plans to buy & redesign all the houses on our way…

Memories abound…Driving on a rented bike on a hot summer afternoon, gorging on water melons and fighting over a seed spitting contest…Our long chats into the night …sneaking upto the terrace to watch the stars…Visiting a pub for the first time …and together going through the embarrassment & thrill of being in a hitherto forbidden place by ourselves! And on our walk back to college when we pretended to be drunk, singing aloud together on the deserted streets (no, we were not drunk 🙂 )
I know there is some one I can always count on when I want to trek up unexplored paths…go parasailing with me, some one who will love the idea of tree houses ( 🙂 ) & camp fires like I do and dream crazy dreams with me…

Well she is getting married this week and will soon move to another city. With marriage will come a different set of priorities & responsibilities & I don’t know how often it will be possible for us to meet…or even talk but the emotional impractical fools that we are – we have already started making plans for get togethers in the months & years to come ( I remember the plan we made where she comes in with her 5 kids in tow and the 6th on the way 🙂 ) I will be going for her wedding .But between the bustling wedding preparations & the swish of lehangas & jewellery , the pull of relatives, between maintaining proprieties & the plethora of rasms & festivities , I don’t know if i will be able to convey more than a hug and an inadequate wish…

So, Pallavi, this one was for you & for our dosti

I wish you a fantastic life ahead with Abhishek & hope you weave crazy dreams together & share the joy of seeing them come true…

Love, Always.

We did it together….

Sometimes life pauses a while to smile at you before rushing headlong into a flurry of festivals, lunches, dinners, conference calls, more festivals, more food, colors, weddings and crowded market streets.

I have never talked much about my father much out here… but today I will.

You see, my father does not like exercising… Actually detests is more like it. And his best rebuttal against a healthy life is to cook a decadent chicken curry preceded by mugs of calorie laden beer. And for the record I protest as best as I can, but the beer does make my arguments go a bit slow, and the chicken usually makes me sleep a bit longer the next day and miss my all-planned-for morning jog. But at least, I talk about exercise, and dream about it and plan for it… which is more than what my father has done for the last decade.

 

I wanted him to undergo a basic six day meditation course.. something that I had done a long time back in college out of compulsion. The kind where they tell you that you don’t know how to do stuff and need to start living your life all over again… My father good naturedly refused and told my wife that her husband is an idiot and she good naturedly agreed. I upped the rhetoric a bit and he was unmoved, and then I really closed the argument that even I will go with him to give him company if he wanted. And he said ‘ok’….

 

So there I was, shaved and bathed at 6 AM in the morning, suitably attired in track pants and white T shirt ,with a rather grumpy dad at my side standing at the meditation venue. It did not help that the venue was the banquet hall of a restaurant that we otherwise associated with some rather nice food and drinks and good times.I promptly chose a position in the hall that was right behind my dad, in no mood to endure the disapproving, grudging sidelong glances I anticipated being subjected to for the entire six days of the course.

 We had an interesting group of people at hand who were there for the course. Middle aged and not so aged, retired and not so retired…. Men and women.Day one started off with some light exercises – on the spot jogging & flapping your hands like a bird.I couldn’t see him, but could feel my father seething at the stupidity of it all..Then came more exercises … and yeah a few rules. No caffeine, no meat, no alcohol for the next one week!  

I was sure my dad would be the one who would grumble, which he did. Be the one who would complain of a sore body and a head ache, which he did. And would be the one behind my back for opting out of the course….which he did not. 

The second day of the course found me, yet again, shaved and bathed at 6 AM at the venue with my father at my side. I wanted to run away…. and to my supreme frustration found my dad smiling. Shaking hands with the rest of the chummy old men in the session, he seemed completely at home. Standing behind him in the session the day I observed him trying his best to ensure that he was the not the slow coach in the gang when we jogged. I saw him wriggle his sixty year old body and make sure that his spine was erect when he assumed the positions for the various activities… and at the end of the session, he walked up to the instructor and asked him questions

The rest of the day found me thinking hard about the last time that my father & I did something together. Just the two of us, no one else. No wives, or siblings or dogs in the picture (with no offence to the dogs). My memories took me back to summer vacations where the both of us had played through summer afternoons on home made Ludo boards, or snakes and ladders or chess… with the rest of the family blissfully asleep. Or when we cooked together during those hard hard years after my mother passed away….

 But all this happened more than a decade back…. For all the last ten years, we had managed to live through our days without doing a single new thing together. It was a realization that struck me dumb for a while…

I went for the remaining four days of the course with my father… with the feeling of being part of something very special. The final day was a pot luck brunch – We brought a father-son combo dish for the group and shared a collective pride when we saw our dishes being polished up by the rest of the group…

The meditation course is great, I have done it before and I enjoyed it again. But what made it special for me this time was that I shared it with my father. My heart went out to him as I saw him trying to do the stretches and the pulls… and I nearly teared up when I saw him dressed and ready each morning waiting for me to get the car.   

In all the years of doing things for my father, I had forgotten the joy doing things with him. In all the years of telling him that he did not understand the need to start exercising, I had forgotten that playing games is no fun when you do it alone.

 The way I see it, life might go back to the way it was…. But I am glad that my father & I spent those six days in a room full of people and dusty carpets, grumbling together about the strain of all the breathing exercises…. We might have been cribbing, but at least we were doing it together.

Life is beautiful…

 

Clouds swirl around sky scrapers outside my window. A gray sky and a teary eyed window pane is not exactly an embodiment of happiness.

 

A R Rehman playing in the background, dim lighting all over the place… and here I am

typing away on a laptop placed on a dining table serving as my working station…. At peace with myself, and happy without reason.

 

Its been a month since I came to Chicago. A city I am yet to embrace and make my own, however, the city in its own way has touched me, not once but several times.

 

Perhaps, I did overlook the people living their lives amidst the sky scrapers, or the lovers

embracing in the numerous mechanically manicured lawns. Perhaps, I did chose to ignore the joy in a beautifully crafted concert in a park shaded by the tallest buildings I have ever seen. Perhaps I did.

 

Yet, somehow, I like the anonymity this city affords me. Chicago is a riot of colors. I am

not the only brown, or yellow or black or white guy in the neighborhood. No one notices me, as Indians are the largest ethnic group in town. I don’t have to explain my origins, which apart from taking away some pretty interesting ice-breakers, is also a relief !

 

On a rainy day like today, I can safely say, that life is beautiful. Is there more to life than knowing that there is a family you can count on, a wife who knows you like no one else can, a career you can chose to change, and a future filled only with hope.

 

It has taken a while to get here, it surely has. From being a teenager without a mother

telling him that its ok to be imperfect, to being a guy who chooses to see the positive side

of things… always. I have come a long way.

 

This is a selfish post. As selfish as ponderings in blogosphere can ever be !

 

At times, you want to kneel down and thank someone for whatever you have. And hold the hands and thank everyone who chose to share a part of their lives in order to straighten up your screwed up adolescent world. And just try and be whatever you need to be, to those who make your home coming worthwhile, when you return after being away for months.

 

Its a blessed life indeed. To know that you are loved, and are capable of loving back. To

have created memories that you know are not cherished just by you. And to realize, that things seem to have taken on a habit on only becoming better as you grow older.

 

Life is perhaps, a reflection of whom you are surrounded with. From the loyal friendships in college to the trust and security of being married… my life has been given wings by those around me. And if you are lucky enough to know the people I know and share my life with, you would also agree,.. that my life is indeed, beautiful…

Au Revoir Milwaukee

sometimes, life just does it for you. So here I am, ten days before I fly back home, sipping a glass of wine and waiting for a fillet mignon at a restaurant I have found comfort over the last three months.

Milwaukee has been good to me… good food, better beer and fantastic people. The weather, well, it grows on you a bit I guess. I mean how many places have you heard of where a perfectly bright morning can be followed by a rainy afternoon..giving way to a balmy evening ! Folks here at Milwaukee never run  out of things to talk about, if nothing else, weather is always there !

This trip has been different for me, in many more ways than one. I had a good time, a really good time.  Enjoyed my work, and am returning home with a pretty satisfied outlook at life.

If only, she could have been around as well.

Anyway, perhaps the reason I appreciated this trip more … and this is going to get me killed when I come back to India, is perhaps that this was the longest period I have spent alone since I ceased being a single guy in an apartment in the middle of Hyderabad.

Being alone makes you look at yourself in ways that you would not have considered possible otherwise. Perhaps, with someone around to love you and indulge you, you overlook basic truths about yourself that  glare at you when you are alone.

So did I have soul turning moments drinking beer at a rock concert by the river, or while walking down the promenades in downtown…. well yes , and no.

It was liberating to know that I could just walk out of the hotel room and be a new person every day. Meet absolute strangers and share times that make them friends for a lifetime. When I knew that all i had were the few clothes hanging in the closet and the money in my wallet to take care of. Not worry about parking a car or standing in a queue to buy petrol… so in big ways and small, being away from all that I hold dear back home, was liberating.

Back home, I carry the weight of my past wherever I go, for people know me, at least to some extent. At Milwuakee, when I walk into bars where the old mustachioed bartender swore that I was the first Indian he had served in thirty years, I need to start from scratch.

Isn’t this what so many of us crave for all the while. The chance to start all over, to be the man we always wanted to be when we read those books and saw that movie that made us cry private tears out of sheer joy…

and to think, we all have that chance in someway or the other, everytime we say hello to a stranger…

I have said a lot of hellos on this trip, and now that its time to say my goodbyes, I cannot help but feel, a bit sad… leaving this town , nestled along the folds of lake Michigan, full of people ready to smile, and make a Indian guy, feel wanted so far away from home. Au Revoir Milwaukee… until we meet again… the next time though, I will bring her with me…

10..9..8…..

5 more minutes, and it will be 9 days to go. 9 days to go, and he will be back!

I feel light as a feather somehow – his coming back will dissolve the burden of separation that was weighing me down….( The burden of responsibility is yet anothing thing altogether – electricity bills, property tax bills,EMIs & the like 🙂 )

I wonder, will I still feel the same way say 10 years from now? I guess only time will tell..

I am not lazy…

“How much is it?” The medical Rep looked at the reading, & then at me, & then again at the reading. Not saying anything, he re adjusted the pad against my arm & made it tighter & waited for the new reading to come. “Your Blood Pressure is very low, you should get it checked by a doc” he said after the second reading. What , me? I have low BP? I got up & went back to work, not really knowing what to make of it. After all, till now, BP was something I associated with old people, & put in the category of all those formidable new age life style diseases like diabetes & Sugar problems & what not. Nah…I can’t have low BP…., can I?

 

“Mom…do we really have to?” She gave me an exasperated look & simply continued ahead, like she had had enough of her only daughter. We arrived at the Doctor’s place. Well, I was confident that the earlier reading was wrong. After the initial pleasantries, the Doc took my BP again & lo & behold, the reading was the same! She took one look at me, & declared that the main causes for a low BP were low nutrition & high stress (!) I must look really woebegone, I thought, is it the colour I am wearing…?

On asking what the symptoms of this condition are, I was told it is usually drowsiness, lethargy, tiring easily etc.

Now, as a child, and I am being very honest here, I have always been lazy. Other than playing, my most favoured activities used to be( and continue to be) to curl up with a book in a corner of the house or that most magical thing- sleep! I could sleep at any time of day, & be happy doing nothing…Mom & dad used to tire of getting me to do any work at all ( they still keep their fingers crossed now that I am a working professional ) Some people are happiest when they are active & doing things, but that’s wasn’t for me ( Imagine the frustration of my dad who thrives on a Daily To Do List & whose happiest moments in  the day are when he ticks off an activity as done! ) I whine if I have to go out & do chores. I try to wheedle out of doing my routine work. On holidays, I simply turn a deaf ear to all the negative energies around me forcing me to do work.

 

I am therefore, called ‘lazy’.

 

And after twenty seven years of carrying this label, I learn that I am not lazy, no – I just have Low BP!

And the only treatment according to the good doctor herself, is to Eat, eat & Rest!

Escaping from the shackles of the Heat Monster…

Escape!

The heat is so overpowering I could cut it with a knife…no, I think I would need a sword…Each movement I make feels like I m attempting to move the earth…and an unknown counter force seems to be resisting my every feeble attempt.

I am languishing like a lazy lizard…and the bean bag into which I have dug myself is covered in a layer of sweat outlining my body underneath…I feel the little droplets of perspiration trickling one after the other from my neck & down my back and into nothingness- spreading a patch of wet where it gets squashed..

Am I with the living? Do I know how to walk & talk & move….It all seems so far away, is it real?

Up above, there are pregnant clouds looming over me…wait… they are moving away ! …they seem to be mocking me…

I see a blue lake beckoning to me, into its calm cool interior… & I jump into the ice cold water! The cold permeates my being & I become one with it…..ecstatic in attaining freedom at last from the gripping shackles of the heat monster !

I m stuck to the bean bag.

Has the heat addled my mind?

Monsoons…I need u soon…to retain my sanity!

The wish that made a difference

“Good Evening Madam!”

 

The voice jerked me out of my reverie & I realised it was the Lift Man.I responded back with a nod & a Good Morning. “Aap kahan pe kaam karti hai?”, he asked again. Now I started to feel irritated. Why can’t he just do his job instead of asking unnecessary questions which are none of his business anyway? With a hint of annoyance I answered back “Vodafone” and averted my glance so that our eyes would not meet.Thank fully, the lift went down just then & I was saved from further inquisitve questions from the man.

 

While driving homewards, however, my annoyance started to turn into guilt as I felt I was unnecessarily curt to a person whose only fault was to try to bring in some conversation into his otherwise monotonous job. But there was more to it than that. His fault lay in the fact that he was just a lowly lift man. His fault lay in the fact that he was trying to make his presence felt. His fault was that he was a human being stuck in a job that required zombies.

 

How many such nameless, faceless people are continuously, soundlessly working so that our lives may be easier? Door men…Watchmen…Garbage pickers…Parking lot attendants….Cleaning ladies….House Keeping staff…and their eficiency lies in their carrying out their job without people like me registering their presence….after all, how many times have I actually looked the Doorman in the eye & acknowledged him when he says “Thank you ma’am”?

 

“Good Morning Madam !” . It was the same Lift man again, but a new day and a fresh perspective. I looked him in the eye, smiled & said : “Good Morning”

The Free Gift :)

makes you feel a bit lonely isnt it…. imagine this… a silence punctuated by falling snow… a darkness highlighted by an inky sky, and a music distanced by a touch of melonchaly…

Yet another evening alone in the vast urban wilderness on the shores of the lake Michigan…

As Salman Rushdie would say… its a moody lake… lake Michigan. It smiles in the Sun and weeps in the rain… and contemplates amongst swirling waves on a windy day. I see the lake every day as I walk down to work. Reminds me of a lot of other constants in my life… like love and affection, and books and dreams.

I have been here at Milwaukee for a month now… battling snow storms and clients difficult to pursuade… and yeah, food at Indian restaurants designed to kill any existing vestige of affection you

may have for authentic desi food !

Did you read the post down below? She talks about her birthday there, the one on which i gifted her a

pair of coral studs. Corny as it sounds, there is a story behind that…

it was in March, and I was joing my family for a trip to Goa. I was fresh out of placements and was

feeling good about my life. I had met the girl I wanted to be with for the rest of my life and she too

felt the same way. Now the only thing remaining was to tell my meat eating, beer swilling hard core

north indian family that their latest daughter-in-law would be a vegetarian south indian brahmin who

usually does not drink anything stronger than buttermilk !

My family, then, it comprised of my father, my elder brother and my bhabhi. I told them, all of them, and they were all quite ok with it.

It was a long train journey from Delhi to Goa… made all the more irritating since my bhabhi had taken

to teasing me about her all the while. My brother and my dad being the men they are, chose to not talk about the subject at all.

It was crazy…. neither me or her, had any free money, the status of college students with jobs beginning  3 months down the line isn’t really different than a regular broke student pilfering favours

off his family and friends. We could not afford to talk to each other on the cellphone all the time.

SMS was the only way out… it was cheap, and un-intrusive. Or so we thought. I had never sent so many SMSes to anyone in my entire life, I described Goa and whatever we did on the cellphone, typing one silly message after the other.

Makes me grin really hard to think that two supposedly mature adults could indulge in such a teenage

notion of romance, but then, thats what it is all about isnt it.

We stayed at the Baga beach, my first trip to the place, and a place that we have visited again and

again since then. I wanted to buy a gift for her, and my bhabhi just wanted to take a walk, so the two

of us went on a long walk along the Baga beach. She helped me pick out something which would be just right, a pair of coral ear studs. And obviously, since i did not have the money to pay for it myself,

she bought it as a gift for both of us. Thats how, even the first real gift I bought for her, was not

really paid by me…

Funny isn’t it, that the things you have not paid for, may turn out to be the ones dearest to the

person you love !

Happy BirThday Radhika.